Japanese Diary

 

Go – Return to Asahikawa

At 7.45 am on Tuesday 15 May I was sitting in the Koru Lounge of Auckland International Airport, struggling to keep my eyes open. It had been an early start, made a little more complicated by having to jettison a couple of items at the last minute (my Kindle, a bottle of shampoo and my pillow), in order to get the weight of my bag closer to the 23 kg limit.

Koru breakfast
Scrambled eggs, kransky sausage and toast, a la Koru Lounge

The day had begun with my Apple Watch vibrating me into awakedness at 3.45 am. In theory, I should have been ready to go, having packed and separated out the items I might need with me on the journey, the previous day. The trip itself, would be a little different from that of the previous year; on this occasion it would be undertaken in two legs: Auckland to Tokyo (Narita airport) and Tokyo (Haneda airport) to Asahikawa. Last year I’d flown directly to Sapporo, before traveling by rail (the Kamui) to my final destination. Another difference was that it would involve an overnight stay in Tokyo, as my Asahikawa flight wouldn’t depart until mid-morning on the Wednesday.

The drive from home to the airport was uneventful. It was a clear, calm morning and South Head Road was dry, only broken by puddles of fog whenever the road dipped into a hollow. There was little traffic through Parakai, Waimauku and even at Kumeu, which an hour or so later would be bisected by a long snake of commuters. We tanked the car at the Gull station there, and leaving the last of the fog behind, hit the northern end of the South Western motorway. Even the road works leading down to the Lincoln Road off ramp didn’t hold us up and before long we were driving through the Waterview Tunnel, and out the other side where I was surprised to read on an electronic sign that it was 18 C.

Ben dropped me off at the international terminal at around 6.00 am and headed back to wrestle his way to the city centre through the early morning traffic. My bag weighed in at 23.4 kg but the attendants let it through; fortunately I didn’t have to implement my backup plan of transferring various items (such as computer cables) from bag to back pack. After clearing Customs and the security check I wandered a couple of times around the duty-free shops, then headed to the Koru Lounge. I had a long wait ahead of me.

The lounge was full with the best seats taken. There are always plenty of comfy chairs but they are the wrong dimensions for a person of my height. They force me to either sit forward awkwardly on the edge, or to sit back with my feet barely touching the floor, so the best chairs for me are the regular ones beside the dining tables. I plonked myself down into the best of the worst and opened my laptop. My intention was to get some writing done and to avoid alcohol – it was, after all, still very early, but after 30 minutes of listening to a nearby group of women talking firstly (and at length) about who they did and didn’t like in ‘Dancing with the Stars’ (a new series is apparently running on TV3), and secondly, about how irritating Winston Peters is and how lovely Jacinda Ardern is, and then having another woman beside me coughing and sniffling, I decided I needed something. And there’s nothing like a glass of bubbly at 7.32 am.

Looking around, I observed that the area was mostly populated with grey-haired, or no-haired individuals, most of them, paired off. Yes, there were a few younger couples and singles, and I did observe one child aged around eight, but I was definitely on the younger side of the majority. Most of us were tapping away at laptop keyboards, or peering closely at mobile phones. Reading glasses were ‘de rigueur’. I thought this somewhat odd. Perhaps it was to do with it being the international lounge – I knew from experience that at that time of the morning on a week day, the domestic lounge would be filled with business types, all suited up.

The noise level was high, too. Across from where I was sitting, the barista gal was regularly bashing the coffee grounds out of the portafilter, plates were being clattered by the breakfast bar, glasses were clinking on a trolley being wheeled past, the buzz of many conversations was reaching a crescendo – the cacophony peppered with abrupt peels of laughter and muffled coughs. I could catch the odd phrase of a conversation, but it was mostly just noise, the kind that makes your eyelids grow heavy until suddenly you realise that you almost fell asleep. Or perhaps it was the one small glass of wine that was beginning to affect me. It was time to zone out.


Next stage of the trip: The flight from Auckland to Narita airport, Tokyo, and the subsequent journey between Narita and Haneda airports, and my experience as a guest of First Cabin.

 

E rere te kootare

Kingfisher Blues

Flare of turquoise, flash of emerald
swifter than the eye can see
glare from windows, crash of impact
lifeless body, spirit free

kotare 02
New Zealand Kingfisher, Halcyon sancta vagans

Earlier this evening, a beautiful Kotare flew smack-bang into our living room window. It lay senseless on the grass, and my heart sank. I gently retrieved it and placed it on a bed of soft wood shavings in a clean cardboard box.

When I checked an hour or so later, the body hadn’t moved. It was limp and warm, but clearly, dead. I’d been hoping it was merely stunned, and would wake up, ready to fly (as has happened with other birds that have flown into our windows).

Poor little bird. It lay there so perfectly, its plumage iridescent in the light.


E rere te kōtare
ki runga pūwharawhara
ruru parirau
kei mate i te ua.

Fly Kingfisher
up onto the clump of Pūwharawhara.
Shake the raindrops from your wings
lest you catch a chill.

(Verse from Tīhore Mai te Rangi, Hirini Melbourne, c. 1978)


kotare 04
This was a luckier bird. It flew into our kitchen windows back in December, but perked up after about 15 minutes and flew away.

 

Flash Fiction

dates
Fresh Figs: A small, yet delectable dessert; Flash Fiction: a small, yet delectable reading experience

Sheer and utter relief, those are the emotions you experience upon the completion of a story. No matter how short, no matter how long, the writing takes its toll.

I’ve just now finished a piece for this month’s Flash Frontier. Flash Frontier is a great site that supports writers of flash fiction both in New Zealand and internationally. It’s some time since they’ve published anything of mine, but it feels good to be finally getting back into writing after a couple of years off helping a friend with less creative writing work. In fact, for a while, I wondered if I’d ever be able to get started again.

Flash Frontier’s theme for March is ‘flora and fauna’. As usual the guidelines are non-restrictive; how you approach the theme is up to the author. This leads to a wide range of stories being submitted for consideration, and once published they make for thought-provoking reading. I think it’s magic that a simple topic can be interpreted in so many different ways.

I started my story the way I always start stories, with the germ of an idea. I’ve mentioned before that when it comes to writing, I’m a ‘pantser‘. This means that I “fly by the seat of my pants,” don’t plan out anything, or plan very little. I’m frequently surprised at where my stories end up. It’s as if the characters have been inside me all along, vying for the chance to share their experiences.

(The other type of writer, by the way, is a ‘plotter’. I think you can figure out for yourself how that kind of a writer works.)

If my story is successful you’ll be able to read it when Flash Frontier’s March edition is published. And if not, there will still be many excellent stories to enjoy. It’s definitely worth checking out every other month.

There’s actually a funny side to this particular project. The fiction published by Flash Frontier generally has a word limit of 250. Occasionally, there is a special 1000 word edition. For some reason I thought the March edition was one of those and I’d been working at shaving the final 10 or so words off my 1000 word version. Then I re-read the submission guidelines. Uh-oh!

It’s such good practice to cull huge chunks of unnecessary words out of a story.


 

Te Kōrero Ahi Kā

Jane Percival
Would you eat this sausage?

SpecFicNZ has included one of my short stories, The Mysterious Mr Montague, in their latest anthology, Te Kōrero Ahi Kā: To Speak of the Home Fires Burning.

Te Korero Ahi Ka - Cover 600
Te Kōrero Ahi Kā: To Speak of the Home Fires Burning.

Te Kōrero Ahi Kā is an anthology of science fiction, fantasy, and horror, showcasing work from award-winning and emerging members of SpecFicNZ (New Zealand authors, poets, artists of speculative fiction).

About The Mysterious Mr Montague

It’s funny how the senses can enhance memories. The addition of a taste, a smell, or a touch, makes the memory more stable, somehow, transforming it into an easy-to-access snapshot of a place and a time that you visited; able to be examined whenever you wish.

A butcher’s shop has a particular smell. And the smell of such a shop in the 1970s is nothing like the odour of the meat section of a supermarket. It smelled of blood and sawdust. Rattling plastic strips kept out most of the flies, and in Summer, a lazy ceiling fan would push the air around, just a little.

If I smell fresh blood today, I’m transported back to my uncles’ shop. It, too, was situated in Kilbirnie, Wellington; but there, the similarity ends.

How to purchase the book

Te Kōrero Ahi Kā is currently available from Amazon (for Kindle or Paperback) and The Book Depository. It may also soon be available in a bookshop near you.


 

 

 

And the Heavens Opened

rain 01
Pools of water collect on the driveway, then run onto the grass by the maize field. Gaining momentum, the water changes direction and flows west into the back paddock.

Rain!

When I arose this morning, the rain that had been coming down steadily all night was like a bead curtain, each string of droplets falling vertically from the leaden grey sky.

Troubled Sleep

Last night had to have been the worst night I’ve experienced this summer, humidity-wise. As I lay on my bed, the covers pushed off onto the floor, I struggled to find a cool patch in the damp mugginess. My hair clung to my head and a patina of moisture coated every patch of exposed skin (in other words, my whole body was dripping).  Around 3.30 am, a loud crash roused me from a weird dream about insects. I’d been half aware, earlier, of a few flashes of brightness through my tightly-closed eyelids as I’d tossed and turned, but I’d put that down to my Apple Watch’s display turning on when I moved my arm. For the next hour, an impressive thunder storm rattled the windows and cast brilliant white light into the room. At 4.15 am I detached myself from the damp bed to check the data on our newly-acquired weather station. The results were no surprise: Outside: 22.3 C / 100 % humidity; Inside: 27.6 C / 93% humidity.

I switched on RNZ’s All Night Programme, hungry for an update on how Tonga was faring under the onslaught of Cyclone Gita. The broadcast was broken by static and I imagined having to endure the rain without shelter. In the darkness of a stormy night. With young children or elderly parents. With ferocious winds and terrifying noises. How frightening that would be.

grass rain 02
A lake of water on the grass

If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em!

When I looked out from the back porch and saw that glistening curtain of rain, I felt an overwhelming urge to shower outside. So I grabbed soap and shampoo and found a position behind the garage (very private there, especially on such a day) and washed and rinsed myself off out there with only the sparrows and one stray hen for company. A large gush of water was overflowing from the corner of the roof, the guttering unable to cope with the torrent, so I stood directly beneath it to rinse off my hair. It felt good to be out there in the wetness. The water was barely cooler than the air temperature.

Taking Stock

71 mm of rain has fallen in the last 24 hours, and of this, 22.5 mm fell in the hour I chose for my outdoor shower. Now it’s getting on for 8.00 pm and the rain has mostly stopped; water is sinking into the grass and draining away.  Outside, the cicadas and crickets are once again making a racket. Let’s hope it’s sunny tomorrow.


letterboxes 02

Tan water flows by
bearing the earth in its grasp
Cows munch undisturbed

Jane Percival, February 2018


 

Japanese Diary

Shi – Signs, Statues and Quirky Frontages

I realised when I posted the Panna Cotta recipe in September that I’d planned to write at least one more post while I was in Asahikawa back in April. However, life became very busy for the last few weeks I was there, and then once back home, other events took over (as they often do). But now, getting close to a full year later, here is that final chapter.

Molly Fantasy
Pulp Town with the puzzling sign, “Molly Fantasy”.

And The Sign Says…

I’m sure that everyone who’s known anyone who’s visited Japan will have a story about this or that amusing sign they saw. It’s not just the slightly incorrect translations into English, it’s often the combination of words and kawaii images that catch the eye. I must admit that by my fourth week in Asahikawa, I’d stopped noticing the signs… I meant to hunt them all out, but ended up by only collecting a few.

The sign ‘As Know as Pinky’ (advertising a fashion boutique) left me with more questions than answers. And ‘Hard Off’ definitely caught my attention… ‘Garage Off’, less so. It was explained to me that the store sold second-hand hardware and garage items at discounted prices, hence the ‘Off’.

blog 4 two signs
Left: ‘As Know as Pinky’ advertises a fashion boutique in Aeon Mall; Right: The intriguing signs, ‘Hard Off’ and ‘Garage Off’ outside a recycled goods store.
goon and sand
Left: ‘Goon’, a baby nappy brand; Right: ‘Love Love Sand’ is a range of sandwiches. This one is strawberry flavour.

Supermarkets were a good source of amusing product names. For some reason, calling babies’ nappies ‘Goon’ cracked me up, and it took me a long time to realise that the ‘Love Love Sand’ range of items, were actually regular sandwiches (their egg sandwiches were one of my regular snack foods).

Three Dimensional Art Objects

One tourist site describes the Asahikawa area as, “A thriving world of art, filled with sculptures, set against the magnificent background of Daisetsuzan mountain range”, and indeed, one of the things you notice straight away is that there are sculptures everywhere.

women 01

They’re situated on corners, amongst gardens, and/or in front of significant (and not so significant) buildings. They depict people (the famous as well as the ordinary), animals, and a wide range of inanimate objects.

women 02

When I first arrived I couldn’t help notice all the statues of naked girls and women, but later I discovered a few naked bodies of the male variety, too.

people 01

I took photos of most of the sculptures I encountered, but the promise of yet another discovery was always ‘just around the next corner’.

people 02

In fact, there were so many that I can hardly do justice to them here… they would take up several pages, so I’ve included just a few to illustrate my point.

rocks

Some featured large pieces of natural rock, or rock slabs.

swans to hands

Others depicted interesting creatures, or body parts. The huge metal disk (above centre), is topped with a line of individual metal people.

shapes

I particularly liked the clean lines of the metal sculptures against the blue skies. The spiral was a favourite in my early days when snow was still deep on the ground.

Evidence of the Individual

Ramen and Pins
Left: A colourfully decorated Ramen Bar; Right: ‘Pin’s’. The small sign in the window states, “EVER YDAY *OPEN* RUDE ONLY’.

Another thing I liked about Asahikawa were the unexpected examples of individuality. While driving in the suburbs, amongst the dwellings toned in neutral shades of grey, brown, blue and green, you might suddenly see a canary yellow or an astonishingly vivid orange house. And scattered across the city, interesting shop frontages can be found tucked in amongst the common grey commercial buildings.

twigs and bar
Left: External sign for ‘Represent Used Clothing’; Right: Cafe/Bar – featuring a Backgammon Club, Coffee, Hot Cola and Cuban beer.

Often these frontages are populated by ‘things’, such as logs of wood, strange mechanical bits and pieces, or cute little chairs.

soften garage
Soften Garage – Antique and Green. This second-hand store had a very interesting and eclectic range of items.

Asahikawa only achieved city status in 1922. Before that it was a town (from 1900) and prior to that, the area was largely rural. Because of this, the city doesn’t have lots of old buildings. So, if you’re looking for classical Japanese architecture you’d be better served to visit Sapporo or the islands further south.

Most of the buildings in the central city area are drab concrete blocks. Perhaps this is why some of Asahikawa’s residents decorate things in their own way – so as not to be defined by the dull grey city buildings with all their ugly wires and unoriginal rectangular shapes.

vehicles
Delivery trucks and refuse lorries decorated with cats and penguins.

 

Zingy Spring Dessert

Simple Coconut Lime Panna Cotta

DSCN2951

This year has been a great season for citrus, and we currently have more limes than we can eat (or drink, for that matter – thinking of the weekend looming and Margaritas on the horizon). We do grate the zest and freeze the juice in cubes for later, but it’s great to actually use these limes while they’re fresh.

With this in mind, I sourced a Panna Cotta recipe online and have adapted it to incorporate this zingy fruit. And for those who need to know, the dessert is Vegan and Gluten-free and it’s a very acceptable 170 calories per serving. Not bad for a dessert!

What you’ll need…

Ingredients

  • 400 ml can of coconut cream
  • 1 x sachet of Queen Jel-it-in
  • 3 tablespoons of genuine maple syrup (or your sweetener of choice)
  • 2 teaspoons grated lime zest and 3 tablespoons fresh lime juice (about 1 lime’s worth)
  • 1 bay leaf (I love the flavour of bay in a creamy dessert)

Equipment

  • Heavy-bottom saucepan
  • Rubber or silicone spatula
  • Measuring spoons,
  • Fine grater
  • 4 small ramekins or jelly moulds (if you wish to turn the panna cottas out, grease them lightly with a plain-tasting oil, e.g., sunflower).

How to make them…

Pour the coconut cream into a saucepan and sprinkle the Jel-it-in on top. Stir until the powder is completely dissolved, then add the bay leaf, the maple syrup, and the lime (zest and juice). Gently bring to the boil, stirring occasionally. Allow it to boil for a minute or two, then remove from the heat and allow to cool a little.

DSCN2928

Remove the bay leaf. Pour into the four ramekins and let them cool a little more, then cover and refrigerate. I tend to leave them out of the fridge until they are quite cold, so that when I cover them, they don’t steam up inside and cause condensation on the top of the desserts, but it’s no biggie, either way.

DSCN2944

You can serve the Panna Cotta garnished with a slice of lime – very tangy! or with whatever you like, really – chopped nuts, sliced fruit, whatever is around.


Original recipe sourced from: http://www.onegreenplanet.org/vegan-recipe/coconut-panna-cotta/